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Netflix's "Queer Eye" Is the Perfect Feel-Good Reality Show for Everyone by Keith LaFountaine

I am not someone who tends to enjoy reality shows. Except for the occasional Gordon Ramsay show or old re-runs of Ghost Hunters that I watched when I was a kid, I tend not to watch any reality television simply because I don’t tend to like it. The main reason I dislike reality television is because it feels fake. As a filmmaker, I can tell when emotion is being elicited or edited in, rather than organically integrated. American television is especially guilty of this.

Yet here I am, about to praise and laud a reality show for being both honest and realistic.

Queer Eye is not the kind of show I would seek out on my own. When I was introduced to it by my girlfriend and our friends I was initially skeptical. After all, I don’t like reality television and I really don’t like makeover shows — they’re just not my thing. Yet Queer Eye approaches these genres with a fresh eye and an exciting amount of energy that makes it infectious to watch and impossible to skip. While it adheres to a specific episodic formula (as most reality television does) every episode is imbued with its own personality, often based on the subject the Fab 5 are tasked with assisting.

Most importantly, what helps set Queer Eye apart from other reality shows, and other television currently airing, is its genuine heart and the five affable men who star in the show. Whether they’re helping an older guy who likes making redneck margaritas and going to car shows, or helping a trans man become more confident after his top surgery, they approach each person with honest endearment and affable joy, so much so that it is compelling and heartwarming.

That’s a core part of what helps make Queer Eye a great show for all kinds of people, no matter where on the sexuality spectrum you find yourself. Every member of the Fab 5 brings a unique perspective to each episode and to each person, elevating the show above the typical “reality show” feel and injecting heart and engaging humor in a genre that is often lacking both of those qualities. More importantly, each member of the Fab 5 is drastically different and unique — and did I mention they are all genuinely friendly and loving? I’m actually speaking from personal experience here: I had the opportunity to meet and chat with Antoni Porowski before an event at a local college, and he is one of the nicest, most down-to-earth people I have ever met.

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I think if I was going to come to a general thesis of this blog post, it would be simple: Queer Eye and its team uses the reality television formula and aesthetic to communicate the love, joy, and happiness they want to spread into the world. That’s part of what helps separate it from other shows in its genre; it’s not trying to use misleading editing to create drama, nor is it listless and devoid of meaning — far from it. Rather, Queer Eye (which only releases 8 episodes a season) approaches every person without judgment and with the sincere desire to help. In a time where cynicism seems to be around every corner, that kind of optimism is desperately needed.

In an early interview, after the first season dropped on Netflix, the Fab 5 did an interview (which I will link below) where they discussed both the show and their approach to it. Tan, the fashion perspective on the show, brought up an interesting point that gets at the heart of what I’m trying to say (it starts at 0:53 for those who are interested in watching).

The original show was fighting for tolerance, and it was different to our show because of this: the original show, it was at a time when the audience wasn’t ready to hear about the intimate lives. They wanted the glossy version of what gays are, and that’s all that America was ready for. That’s all the world was ready for. Times have changed. We don’t want you to just think that we’re a bunch of gay guys who can make something pretty - that’s not the case anymore...We want you to accept us as your kin. We want you to accept us as the people we are. We are just men who are out to help, and do the best we can to help everybody that we meet.
— Tan, FOX 5 DC Interview

No matter what your sexual identity or orientation is, I can confidently say you should give Queer Eye a shot.

More important than that, though, I can promise you that you will not find a more enjoyable, uplifting, wholesome, or optimistic show on television right now. The lengths that this team goes to to make both the heroes (as they affectionately dub the folks they help) and the fans they meet happy and feel loved is unlike anything I have seen on television before. It’s something everyone can connect to, whether you are straight, gay, bi, trans, asexual, or anywhere in-between on the sexuality spectrum.

Give it a shot. Watch an episode or two. I have a sneaking suspicion that you won’t be able to stop, just like I wasn’t able to.

Steven Spielberg Is Wrong About Netflix -- Here's Why by Keith LaFountaine

Steven Spielberg is a man who needs no introduction. As a legend of cinema, with a canon of masterpieces under his belt and a consistent output of quality films (ranging from period pieces to sci-fi epics), his opinion holds sway in Hollywood. It’s also not often that he uses that power; he is a good, humble man who often espouses his support of filmmaking and cinema in general.

This all took a strange turn when he came out gunning for Netflix after the 2019 Oscars. In addition to calling Green Book “…his favorite buddy movie since Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid”, (something that requires its own blog post to unpack), he has taken steps to try and block Netflix films from being able to compete at the Oscars.

There’s a problem here, though: with all due respect to Spielberg, his creative genius, and his important legacy in the film world, he’s wrong on this issue. Not only that, his antiquated views about Netflix are going to hurt cinema more than Netflix ever would.


I. What’s the Big Deal With Netflix?


Steven Spielberg’s focus on Netflix is not because he has some personal vendetta against the streaming service. It’s because he considers Netflix Original films to be “TV Movies” — entertainment that belongs at the Emmys, not the Oscars. His main concern is how long these films are released in theaters just to become eligible for an Academy Award. He’s held these views for a while now. In fact, he’s been quoted in interviews discussing his disagreement with this release strategy.

Fewer and fewer filmmakers are going to struggle to raise money, or to compete at Sundance and possibly get one of the specialty labels to release their films theatrically...I don’t believe that films that are just given token qualifications, in a couple of theaters for less than a week, should qualify for the Academy Award nominations.
— Steven Spielberg, Indiewire Interview

There is some merit to his criticisms here, too. Roma, which was nominated for 10 Oscars (and won 3) this year was only in theaters for three weeks, which satisfied the Academy’s requirement that a film play for at least a week in theaters in LA. Furthermore, this is a criticism a lot of people (myself included) have had.

There is obviously merit to Netflix’s strategy: some folks in rural communities may not have access to theaters, and those who do may not have the financial flexibility to go see movies all the time. Netflix’s streaming platform allows them to see original filmmaking for an affordable price (even the highest tiers of Netflix’ plan cost less than it would to see two or more movies a month at the theater).

However, there is also something to be said for the importance of the theater experience, which is what Spielberg wants to preserve. I would love to see Netflix open up more to theater releases and Blu-Ray investments (one of which the streaming giant has budged on — Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman will receive a theater release upon its arrival).


II. Where Spielberg Went Wrong


As I’ve said, these criticism are not inherently wrong. While I may disagree with him about Netflix Original films being equivalent to TV movies, I do understand his concerns about films sneaking their way into the Oscars by satisfying the Academy’s guidelines with the bare minimum.

There’s just a couple of problems:

1) There are theatrically released films that squeak by the Oscar guidelines with the same kind of tactics Netflix has used. In fact, the majority of Best Picture winners since 2006 (84%) were released in October or November — just a few months before the Oscars ceremony. Furthermore some films, like the recent winner Green Book, go on to use their Best Picture win to fuel further box office revenue.

2) His proposed rule changes would require films to play in theaters for a month before becoming eligible for the Oscars. Furthermore, the Academy has a rule that eligible films must released the year before the awards (so films released January 1st, 2019 can’t compete for the 2019 Oscars, while films released in LA on December 23rd, 2018 can). In essence, his proposed changes would affect the time period when most Best Picture winners — including Green Book — are released.

It’s also important to point out that Spielberg’s film The Post would have been ineligible by his own proposed rules. It premiered in Washington D.C. on December 14 and started a limited run on December 22, giving it just enough time - 10 days - to satiate the Academy’s requirements and earn a Best Picture and Best Actress nomination.


III. The Irony of Spielberg’s Position


Spielberg honestly believes he is fighting for the good of cinema, and I don’t see him being the kind of person to do so with malice. He honestly believes that he is protecting the integrity of filmmaking. The irony of this entire debacle is that Spielberg’s actions would hurt cinema more than Netflix would.

Netflix’s release strategy could certainly be better. I would love to be able to see films like Roma, 13th, and the upcoming Triple Frontier in theaters. I would also love to own a Blu-Ray copy of them to add to my collection. My inability to do so does not mean that films like Roma are not films, though. That does not mean their inclusion at the Oscars is a degradation to the medium itself.

If Spielberg is successful in his attempt to change these rules, it is going to hurt more than just Netflix — it is going to hurt all sorts of filmmakers, further saturate 10 months of the year with tons of releases — too many for most people to see — and remove films like Spielberg’s The Post from eligibility.

Aside from the elitism of the idea that Netflix is beneath the Oscars, the impact Spielberg’s new rules would have on the filmmaker world would be a greater detriment than to allow films like Roma to compete, and win, Oscars.

While nobody really knows whether Spielberg’s efforts will be successful, Netflix has its supporters, including filmmaker Ava DuVernay and The Blacklist creator Franklin Leonard.

Furthermore, whether Spielberg likes it or not, streaming is a glimpse into the future of cinematic releases. It’s only natural that Netflix films are going to win Oscars, Golden Globes, Emmys, and other awards. Soon enough, the coveted Best Picture award will go to a Netflix Original — it’s only a matter of when.

"Dumplin'" Is a Flawed, but Important Exploration of Body Positivity and Internal Confidence by Keith LaFountaine

If I’m being completely honest, I did not expect to like Dumplin’ as much as I did. After you see as many films as I have, narrative conventions and cheesy plot points stick out like sore thumbs, often pulling me out of the film and making its flaws that much more apparent. It’s very fitting, then, that the confidence behind every aspect of this film — from its writing, to its direction, to its cast — is part of what helps make it work. This is a film that is full of cheesy moments, that sports some pretty forced dialogue, and offers a narrative that is easy to predict; yet, in spite of all of these apparent flaws, Dumplin’ emerges as not just an enjoyable film, but one that has a vital message at its core.

Dumplin’ follows Willowdean (played by Danielle MacDonald) - a plus-sized teenager who happens to be the daughter of a former beauty queen, Rosie (played by Jennifer Aniston). After the death of her aunt, who helped build Willowdean’s confidence throughout childhood, the young girl enters the local beauty pageant, which Rosie helps run.

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I think what helps make Dumplin’ such an important film — and what helps make its flawed elements ultimately work — is that this isn’t the story of a young girl needing a boy to find confidence, nor of one where a girl discovers her self-confidence because of the beauty pageant itself. While there is a male love interest and a beauty pageant in the film, Willowdean’s journey is an internal one. She is searching for inner confidence, not for validation from other people. It’s a more difficult journey, as we see on multiple occasions, but it’s ultimately a more fulfilling one.

It would be easy to mess this film up, too. So many films that have preceded it have stumbled when it comes to this messaging. Dumplin’ makes it a point not to tie Willowdean’s journey specifically to any element other than herself and her fond memories of her aunt. It doesn’t pull its punches when it comes to showing the bullying Willowdean experiences because of her size, nor does it try to shy away from the clearly tense relationship Willowdean has with Rosie. Instead, it embraces these elements and utilizes them to make a point — one we’ve known for quite some time now, but which still needs to be said; one which is adorned on the swimsuits of Willowdean and her best friend Ellen (played by Odeya Rush) when they walk out on stage together — “every body is a swimsuit body.” The point being that beauty is not, and should not, be defined strictly by our waistline.

I’m sometimes criticized of being too hard on films for their flaws, and perhaps there is some truth to that. As much as I adore films, I do use my incessant movie-watching as an opportunity to learn from the faults I see on screen, which helps limit the chance that I too will make them. I’m not cold-hearted, though. I can see the importance of a film’s message, and even be moved by it, even when it is surrounded in conventional Hollywood cliches and narrative conventions I’ve seen a thousand times.

I’m not going to pretend Dumplin’ is a perfect film, because it’s not. It is an important one, though; it’s one that wears its heart on its sleeve, much like Willowdean herself. It’s these elements that help elevate it, and it’s these elements that make it worth watching.


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“DUMPLIN’” ★★★

directed by ANNE FLETCHER || written by KRISTIN HAHN

Rated PG-13 || Released December 7, 2018 || 110 MIN